MTR rail services suffer second disruption in a week

March 25, 2019 13:07
According to MTR, a loose component overhead caused damage to a train’s pantograph (center of the picture), with an eight-kilometer stretch of cable affected. Photo: i-Cable News video/screenshot

MTR Corporation saw two of its railway lines suffer 10-hour service disruptions on Sunday, barely a week after an accident forced the firm to suspend services between two stations on a key route.

At around 10 minutes past midnight Sunday, half of the lights in a train bound for Hong Kong Station on the Tung Chung Line suddenly went out when the carriages were approaching Sunny Bay Station.

The train then slowed down and stopped at the station, after which the passengers were evacuated.

As MTR did not blockade the section immediately, an Airport Express train was forced to stop near the station 18 minutes later because of power outage, before the train reached the Sunny Bay Station.

Firefighters rushed to the Sunny Bay Station to stand by, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

Tony Lee Kar-yun, MTR's chief of operations engineering, told media that the incident happened because there was a loose component on the overhead line and that the component had caused damage to the train’s pantograph.

The pantograph gave the overhead cable different degrees of damage, with an eight-kilometer stretch of cable affected, according to the executive.

Quite a number of people were affected due to the incident, especially those who had planned to use the express train to get to the Hong Kong International Airport.

It took MTR workers about 10 hours to fix the problem. Services on the Tung Chung Line and the Airport Express were disrupted before they gradually started to return to normal from around 10 am.

During the period, MTR provided feeder buses between Tung Chung Station and the airport. The company also paid tax fares for some passengers who needed to get to the airport immediately to catch flights.

Among other affected passengers, some Tung Chung residents had to ride feeder buses to Sunny Bay Station where they were able to get on to MTR trains again.

The railway operator said the overheard equipment sets of the affected section were found to be normal during checkups conducted in late February.

The latest incident came as MTR was still grappling with the fallout of a service disruption on the Tsuen Wan Line last week. 

In the early hours of March 18, two trains that were testing a new signaling system during non-traffic hours collided with each other, resulting in a derailment. The accident led to service between Central and Admiralty Stations on the Tsuen Wan Line getting suspended for two days.

Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, who had once served as chairman of the board of Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation, said MTR should consider adding a high-definition camera on top of each train and use the latest technologies, such as artificial intelligence, to monitor power supply in a real-time fashion.

MTR is expected to have to pay a HK$6 million fine for the Sunday service disruption, given the operator's existing service performance arrangement.

Dr. Wilton Fok Wai-tung, assistant dean of engineering at the University of Hong Kong, raised questions about outsourcing of many public utility services by the government.

The outsourcing has led to operators not shouldering proper responsibility for service lapses, Fok said, noting the rise in serious incidents involving MTR services in recent years.

Reshuffling the management may only treat the symptoms but not the root causes, he said, arguing that the accountability system in relation to MTR is not up to the mark.

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